What I’ve learned from paying off $100,000 in debt

$100,000 is a lot of money. That’s higher than some people’s mortgage!

But it wasn’t even counting mortgage for us. That was all of our combined debt, not including our house.

We had it all: student loans, credit cards, a car loan, medical debt. As Dave Ramsey says, “we didn’t meet a debt we didn’t like”.

What’s even worse was that all of the student debt was mine. My husband had none. And of course, the student debt was the largest piece of the huge $100,000 in debt.

I was worried that coming to the table with that much student debt would cause an issue. I mean, he had to pay off tens of thousands of dollars for a degree that he didn’t even earn!

Luckily, we talked through a lot of the principles I outlined in talking to your spouse about money and navigating money fights to be on the same page immediately. It was such a relief to have that aspect removed from the equation.

Photo by Lorenzo Castagnone

So, now that it’s all behind us, what were some of our lessons learned while paying off over $100,000 in debt?

1. We’ll never put ourselves in that situation again.

It took us a little over two years to pay off that debt.

It was so difficult.

There were times when we wanted to give up and splurge. Or break the budget “just this once” so we could go to a restaurant. Or times we would think, “there are so many others who just pay the minimum payment. Why can’t we?”.

Putting yourself through the strain of paying off debt and living on a very tight budget is hard. It’s something that, when you get through it, you’ll never want to see yourself there again.

2. Budgeting is the only thing that will get you through paying off debt quickly.

It’s already not easy to pay off debt, no matter the size.

But when you do it blindly, aka without budgeting, it will make it almost impossible without financially hurting yourself.

Why?

It’s easy to tell yourself that you plan on allocating $200 of your next paycheck to your debt. You “typically have that much left over, so it won’t hurt”.

But you forget that your cell phone bill is coming out this paycheck. So you’ve already spent that $200, and then you don’t have the money to cover your bill.

If you have a budget set, you are planning your finances for your future paychecks. So, before you get paid this Friday, you already know what bills are coming out of that paycheck, how much you need to set aside for things like groceries and gas, and exactly how much you have to throw at your debt.

You know all of this before you even get paid!

There’s something comforting and reassuring about knowing that everything is covered for that pay period. Budgeting was a huge part of our lessons learned while paying off our debt.

You don’t have to worry if you’re over-drafting, or if you’ll have enough for food as you get closer to your next paycheck.

It’s already been planned and budgeted!

3. If you’re not in it together, you’re not in it at all.

This is so important!

If you’re married and therefore tackling your debt as a team, it is absolutely crucial to be in it together.

You both have to be in agreement about what you’re doing.

You both have to understand what will not only do to you while you’re paying off the debt (living way below your means), but also understand what paying off this debt will do for your future (anything you want!).

If you’re looking to start paying off debt without your partner’s knowledge, then I can promise you it will only end up in disaster.

It is very likely that you could build resentment for your partner’s spending, and they could resent you for tightening the purse strings without being on the same page.

That resentment will build and build until a massive fight happens.

It is important to be on the same page, from the very beginning, about your financial goals.

Sit down together and talk through why you want to pay off your debt. It might be a simple conversation

4. Cut out as much as you possibly can. And then cut out some more.

I think this is what turns people off the most about paying off debt quickly.

I’ve been there, so I can tell you: it’s really tough to give up the things you enjoy in order to have extra cash each month.

But it was an imperative step in paying off our debt quickly.

We gave up restaurants, travel, cable, coffee trips, quick fast food when we didn’t want to cook, home improvements, buying new clothes or shoes (which is hard for this runner!), and other things to get the most out of our paychecks. We even cut out small gas station trips, used for buying cheap gas station coffee and candy!

All of those fun things added up really fast.

Take coffee trips, for example. Each trip is around $5. But if you’re going 3 or so times a week, that’s $15/week, $60/month, and $720/year. That’s a lot of money just for coffee!

We decided to brew our own at home. You can buy the small bottles of syrup and quality coffee for much cheaper, then brew your own and save that money for your debt.

The important thing to remember is, this is not forever. You will have your debt paid off, and start integrating all of that back in.

For us, we got so accustomed to not having cable that we actually kept ours off, even after we paid off our debt. We also keep our coffee trips and buying new clothes limited. It’s funny how, when you see how much money it saves you, it’s not very hard to let it go!

5. It’s important to have something to keep you motivated.

Because it’s completely natural to want to give up during this process.

It’s difficult, it tests you, and it might take some time to complete. And it’s tough to endure that without motivation.

We had two things that kept us motivated.

First, we wrote down our “why” and had that somewhere we could see all the time. It was important to us to know what we were working for, especially when it got challenging.

And we also had a chart on our fridge that we colored in as we paid off debt. This one was huge for me, because I am a visual person who needs to see the progress we’ve made and what we have left.

Whatever it is for you, be sure to keep it somewhere that you see every day.

That’s it!

If you’re debt free, what were some of your lessons learned while paying off your debt? What has kept you motivated during the process?

If you haven’t started yet, what do you think is holding you back? What do you think you’d learn from the process of paying everything off?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

We paid off over $100,000 in debt in just over 2 years, and boy was it tough. But we learned some impactful lessons from it, and want to share them with you! debt payoff | debt | budget | financial freedom | family budgeting

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